Brazil Nut Oil

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The Brazil nut oil is another one of the gems provided by mother nature which is found in the Amazon rainforests, the lungs of our planet. Brazil nuts are famed for their high nutritive value, especially their high selenium content. They are in incredible demand the world over. But we should also pay attention to the oil derived from brazil nuts, which also possesses unique nutritional, cosmetic and therapeutic benefits.  



Source

Brazil nuts are actually the seeds of the fruit (interestingly, it is not a nut!) of a tree which has the scientific name Bertholletia excelsa. This tree grows naturally in the rainforests of South America, drained by such mighty rivers as Amazon, Orinoco and their plethora of tributaries. The nuts were traditionally collected by local people as per the season in which the tree sheds them. As its popularity grew, it began to be used highly in the confectionery industry.  

Brazil Nut Oil
Brazil Nut Oil (Image:Shutterstock)

The fruit of this tree is hard as a coconut. In fact, in Cuba, the fruit is called the St. James Coconut. Once the outer shell is opened up, the seeds are visible, arranged like the sections of an orange. These seeds are the Brazil nuts. In Brazil, they are called castanhas do para. They are then cold pressed to yield virgin brazil nut oil.  

Color and Aroma

Its color is a radiant yellow with mild greenish tones. It has a certain lustre to it. It does possess a faint aroma, and its flavor upon taste is nutty. 



Properties

There is lack of extensive research on the therapeutic properties of brazil nut oil, partly owing to its obscurity for many many years. However, present research on the composition of its fats and micro-nutrients establishes many properties of this oil.  

  • Emollient – Brazil nut oil is one of the best oils for moisturizing the skin because of its high oleic acid content coupled with presence of vitamin E, which is a rare combination. Oleic acid locks in moisture quite effectively. This makes it suitable for many skin conditions.  
  • Antioxidant – Presence of vitamin E in this oil is a dominating factor in its high antioxidant capacity. Thus, it helps to prevent the skin and the body from free radicals that we regularly encounter. [1] 
  • Anti-inflammatory – Sufficiently good presence of omega-6 fatty acid lends it anti-inflammatory power. It can be used to relieve redness, pain and inflammation arising either from injuries, insect bites or internal conditions, like psoriasis.    
  • Anti-caries – A unique health benefit of this oil is its ability to prevent dental caries, hence it can be used in homemade formulations to boost dental health. [2] 
  • Anti-ageing – Vitamin E, in combination with certain essential fats, and by its own power as well, has the ability to slow down ageing of the skin. Hence topical application of brazil nut oil would help in keeping the skin younger looking and nourished. [1] 

Uses and Health Benefits

Brazil Nut Oil for Hair

Brazil nut oil may help in improving hair growth among people who seem to note that their hair growth rates have declined. Some studies indicate that Vitamin E boosts blood circulation, and as a result improves the health of our follicles. But this was because of tocotrienol form of Vitamin E, which is different from the tocopherol form found in Brazil nut oil. The tocopherols can help with reduced hair growth rates and alopecia due to ageing by reducing the ageing process itself by countering free radicals. [3]  

Secondly, the Vitamin E in brazil nut oil helps in restoring the gloss in our hair. People with damaged hair often note that hair has become drier and its natural sheen has reduced. This gives the hair a mild frizzy look. Natural oil production of the body is sometimes washed off by the application of harsher shampoos and that may also result in less glossy hair. Application of small quantity of brazil nut oil (just a teaspoon) to wet hair (after they have been washed) makes the hair looks shinier. It spreads quite well and is minimally greasy. Applying this oil as a regimen for a few months would ensure proper transmission of the benefits of Vitamin E to the hair.  

Brazil nut oil’s ability to provide superior moisturization and shine to dry, damaged hair is also being recognized by major hair treatment centers worldwide.  

It is also proven by research that selected Brazilian oils like brazil nut oil, ucuhuba oil and passion fruit seed oil reduce split end formation when used as hair treatment, independently. [4] For achieving this effect, apply a teaspoon of brazil nut oil to the split ends when hair is moist and then comb gently to remove knots. The oil has to be left in. This is prominent because very few oils or butters or gels can genuinely claim to be able to repair split ends, because it is very difficult to join the hair strands back together once they are frayed.  

Vitamin E also prevents the cells from UV – radiation. Hence, applying brazil nut oil to the hair before going out in intense sun would prevent them from getting sun damaged. Moreover, Vitamin E helps to keep the hair naturally untangled, which makes long hair quite manageable and saves precious minutes when one has to get ready quickly. [1]   

Brazil Nut oil for Skin

Brazil nut oil can be applied directly to the skin as a pure substance, without the need of mixing it in any base oils. It is excellent for dry, cracked skin as it helps the skin retain moisture. Vitamin E within the oil is easily absorbed into the deeper layers of the skin and makes it stronger, supple, healed and nourished. It protects the skin from harmful UV radiation of the sun and also prevents hyperpigmentation (although this effect is also attributed to an essential fatty acid called linoleic acid). Taking a diet rich in Vitamin C helps in better usage of the Vitamin E. The antioxidant power of brazil nut oil aids in diminishing the cell damaging action of free radicals, thus keeping our skin young and healthy. Brazil nut oil is light and spreads well. It adds shine to the skin. Hence, it can be used to prep the skin before an important event.  



Brazil Nut Oil As Cooking Oil

Brazil nut oil is not yet considered safe for ingestion, neither as a salad dressing nor as a cooking oil. Therefore, it is best to avoid using it in your cooking. Most of the traditional Brazilian cuisine is done using palm oils and olive oils, which are also the staple worldwide.  

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Brazil nut oil is quite unique when it comes to composition of its fatty acids, especially when compared to other oils from Brazil and surrounding regions of the Amazon river, like the passion fruit oil or the pracaxi oil. Most of the oils that we encounter have certain dominant fatty acids, like some are mainly composed of oleic acid (omega-3) while others are dominated by linoleic acid (omega-6), like evening primrose oil. But here comes brazil nut oil with quite similar concentrations of oleic as well as linoleic acids. The full profile of lipids in brazil nut oil is as follows.  

Fatty acids  Carbon notation  Composition (as percent) 
Oleic acid  C 18:1  38 
Linoleic acid  C 18:2  31 
Linolenic acid  C 18:3  0.1550 
Palmitic acid  C 16:0  14 
Stearic Acid  C 18:0  11 
Arachidic acid  C 20:0  0.3627 

Source: [5]  

As we can see from the above table, Brazil nut oil has a high percentage of Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), but the mono-unsaturated fatty acid (MUFAs like oleic acid) and the saturated fats (like palmitic and stearic acids) are not negligible. Total unsaturated fats make up about 70% of the oil.  

The oil thus combines good emollient characteristics of the oleic acid with the anti-inflammatory powers of linoleic acid.  

Brazil nut oil is also unique in terms of the breakdown of the vitamin E it contains. Its vitamin E is almost 90% beta-tocopherol and little of the alpha and gamma tocopherols. However, beta tocopherol is a lesser potent antioxidant than the alpha version.  

Tocopherols  Percentage of the total Vitamin E 
  α-tocopherol  11 
  β-tocopherol  88 
  γ-tocopherol  0.4 

Source: 6 

However, this is not all the oil contains. It provides numerous micro-nutrients to the skin and hair. It provides significant amount of phospholipids (to the tune of 377 mg per Liter). These are a kind of fats that aid in improving the penetration of nutrients from the oil into deeper layers of skin. Hence, brazil nut oil could turn out to be a good base oil for massage formulations. Its benefits in healing stretch marks should be explored.   

Brazil nuts are also known for high sterol content, which also gets passed down to the oil.  

Physico-chemical parameters of brazil nut oil are also of significance.  

Relative density  0.911 
Acid value  2 
Peroxide value  12 
Iodine value   
Saponification Index  178 
 pH  3.8 
 Comedogenicity   

Source: 5 

There is no definitive information about the comedogenicity however, several users have suggested that the oil has the tendency to clog pores and is thus mildly comedogenic. Hence, it should not be used for active acne.  

Side Effects, Safe Dosage and Toxicity Issues

The oil is considered as safe for topical applications by the material safety data sheet (MSDS) [7]. It is not known to cause strong allergic reactions and is gentle on the skin. It is generally non-toxic to humans and animals. However, it is not advised to use it for internal consumption. Although it is suitable for use as a cooking oil based on its ingredients (as per Codex Alimentarius standards), the oil is still not used for cooking. That could perhaps be because of its high sterol content or its tendency to become rancid slightly faster than other oils (because of a high concentration of linoleic acid which is most prone to oxidative degradation). What this means is that the oil possesses low shelf life.   

Buying Guide

The best form of any oil is its cold pressed virgin oil. One should always prefer a virgin oil for skin and hair conditioning applications. Since it is extracted from the rainforests, it is important to make sure we buy from firms that harvest brazil nuts in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner. It is best to buy small quantity of this oil and also keep it in a cool place, though not refrigerated, in order to make it last. Most of the global production of brazil nut oil is done in Brazil and in Peru.  

References 

  1. Vitamin E Oil – Oil Health Benefits 
  2. Cde F et al .Effect of vegetable oil (Brazil nut oil) and mineral oil (liquid petrolatum) on dental biofilm control. Braz Oral Res. 
  3.  Oxidative stress in the ageing of hair. Ralph M Trueb. International Journal of Trichology.  
  4. Fregonesi A et al. Brazilian oils and butters: the effect of different fatty acid chain composition on human hair physiochemical properties. Journal of Cosmetic Science.  
  5. Muniz et al. Physicochemical characterization, fatty acid composition, and thermal analysis of Bertholletia excelsa HBK oil. Pharmocognosy Magazine.  
  6. Chunhieng et al. Detailed study of Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) oil micro-compounds: phospholipids, tocopherols and sterols. Journal of Brazilian Chemical Society.  
  7. Brazil Nut Oil MSDS – aromatic.co.uk 

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